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BP-Ford Abu Dhabi Strengthen Rally Japan Lead

United Arab Emirates Capital Backed Team On Track For Maximum Points In Penultimate WRC Round

BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team today maintained its firm grip on the leading positions in Rally Japan – the penultimate round of the 15-event FIA World Rally Championship series. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-backed outfit’s lead driver, Mikko Hirvonen, retained his lead following today’s eight gravel-track forest stages near Sapporo. Currently trailing Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb by 14-points in the drivers’ standings, Hirvonen headed team-mate and fellow countryman Jari-Matti Latvala by 15.5sec at the end of Saturday’s action. "It was quite a nerve-wracking day," said Hirvonen. "The roads were much faster and it took a while for me to get used to that after the narrow, twisty stages yesterday. This afternoon there were ruts everywhere but I couldn’t afford to ease my pace too much. The conditions were difficult and Jari-Matti drove quickly behind me. The strangest moment came this morning when I lost my rhythm after two deer ran across the road in front of me.” With third-placed Loeb 53.5secs behind Hirvonen, the all-conquering Frenchman has little chance of catching his title rival, but he can still secure a fifth consecutive world championship should he finish in the podium places after Sunday’s final leg. "I came to Japan looking for victory but even if I achieve that tomorrow, it looks like that won’t help my championship challenge now. If Sebastien finishes in the top three it’s over – but you never know,” added Hirvonen. However, with Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo running outside of the points in 17th, the prospect of BP-Ford Abu Dhabi halving Citroen’s 23-point manufacturers’ lead - should they secure a one-two finish - remains the teams’ shining light in the Land of the Rising Sun. Latvala’s progress could well define the manufacturers’ championship and the 23-year old showed he’s up for the battle as he powered through the day to extend his lead over Loeb to 38secs. "I succeeded in keeping Sebastien behind me,” said Latvala. “Maybe he drove carefully in the ruts but, if so, it made my life easier. I needed to drive fast because I didn’t want him getting closer to me, but equally I didn’t want to put Mikko under pressure, so I followed Seb’s split times in the stages," he said. "I wanted to find the right balance and not risk too much and I increased my speed when I found my confidence. In these conditions the only thing to do was follow the ruts and be brave. The tactic was to keep all four wheels in the ruts, like a train track," added Latvala. The WRC field will face another nine stages during Sunday’s 96.43km of competitive rallying. The rally route covers two identical loops of four tests; the loops sandwiching a final pass through the Sapporo Dome super special stage.

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